Lot's wife looked at something that she wasn't supposed to and she was turned into a pillar of salt. That's pretty much what happens to us when we look at something we shouldn't on Facebook or Google. A man who looks at immodest pictures of women pollutes his whole spiritual system and cuts himself off from the Shechinah. What temptations there are every time a person sits down at the computer! We've re-posted some articles on the www.jewishsexuality.com site to explain these all-important matters. In the meantime, our serialization continues:
Chapter Nine - A Strange Coincidence
Carloads of students began arriving at the cottage just as I was leaving. Baruch said they were heading up north to the forests of Mount Hermon to pray for rain. A mini-bus rumbled down the driveway and, like a well-trained army, students started loading it with cartons of food and drink. Feeling a little left out, I got into my car and headed back to my hotel. It was only ten o’clock but I was already starting to feel the fast. I had a feeling of being deprived, and I didn’t like it. I figured it was smarter to stay in the air-conditioned hotel room, rather than be out in the sun, but it was boring as hell. The room didn’t have cable TV, and I only had the guide book to read. I took a walk to the lobby to see if I could find a newspaper in English, but I struck out there too. By eleven o’clock, I was starting to feel an oncoming headache, and I was beginning to experience a growing sense of frustration as well.
This was crazy, I thought. I wanted to eat. Why should I have to fast? Back in my room, I tried to write down some of the things I had learned, starting with the seven commandments of the children of Noah, but I only came up with five – not to murder, not to steal, not to worship idols, not to eat live animals, and to set up courts.
The worsening headache made it hard to concentrate. Seeing the complimentary bowl of fruits that I hadn’t touched the day before, I felt like a baby who is offered a bottle only to have it taken away. I didn’t know what lesson I was supposed to learn from the fast, but not eating wasn’t to my liking at all.
Maybe it was because of the dry spell, maybe because of the heat. Maybe it was because of my headache and the feeling of nausea I began to have. Whatever the reason, I started to feel very edgy. Lying in bed, I tried to doze off to sleep, but the room was too bright. Closing the curtains didn’t help. I tossed from side to side, banging at my pillow, as if it were to blame. I had never been able to sleep with a headache. Certainly taking two aspirin couldn’t be considered breaking a fast. Not that I had any with me, or knew where I could find some. Maybe if I chewed them without drinking any water, or swallowed them down whole, it would be OK and get by Saba Yosef’s radar. But I was afraid to take the chance. Finally, I suppose I drifted off to sleep, because I awoke with in a sweat with a nightmare that I was dying of thirst in a room and nobody knew where I was.
The headache was becoming unbearable. I felt like a spike had been drilled into my forehead. I could hardly open my eyes. To prevent myself from having a tantrum, I tried to think what was the lesson that the old man wanted me to learn? I tried to calm myself down by telling myself that this wasn’t the first time in life that I had felt frustrated. I was a frustrated husband. I was a frustrated father. I was a frustrated high-school teacher, who had originally dreamed of teaching in college. And I suppose I was a frustrated little-league coach. In fact, my whole life was a little-league life. I was a little-league husband. A little-league father. A little-league teacher. I had even turned into a little-league lover.
Maybe it was out of those frustrations that I didn’t feel satisfied with anything I did. Or with anyone around me. My wife said I was too critical. That I always saw the negative, instead of the good. “All right, so I am not a perfect isosceles triangle with two equal sides,” she retorted during one of our fights. True, I was a mathematician, but how could I demand perfection in others, when I was far from perfect myself? Or that my daughter be chaste, when I was just the opposite?
Not that things had always been bad with my wife. In the beginning, we were like lovebirds. In my eyes, she was the prettiest gal in the world. And I was her prince charming. But things changed over the years. I never knew why. I still didn’t know now. All I knew was that I didn’t want to turn into a piece of petrified wood like my father, or die a slow and painful death as a Prostate cancer ate up my balls.
My father had been a perfectionist too. Maybe that’s what led me to mathematics and the impersonal world of numbers and graphs. He was never satisfied with anything, including his only son. Besides the photo I carried in my wallet, where you see him smiling when I was born, I didn’t have any recollections of demonstrative expressions of his love – certainly not during the final years when the Parkinson’s left his muscles as rigid as bones, and his lips couldn’t form into a smile. Miriam said that not only my tremor was genetic, but my dissatisfaction with her and my daughter as well.
Not surprisingly, my parents divorced when I was in grade school. My mother didn’t want the responsibility of a child and took off to live in Mexico City with her Mexican boyfriend. I was begrudgingly raised by father and his sheepish second wife. Maybe that was the reason that Miriam and I never got divorced. I didn’t want the same thing to happen with my daughter.
Before long, my head felt like it was about to explode. I was going to go out of my mind if I didn’t drink some water.
“Please, God!” I called out. “Enough!”
It was just one o’clock. I didn’t know how I could make it till sundown, another six hours away. I felt that I had to get out of the tiny hotel room, but I was worried about going outside into the sun. Suddenly I had a brainstorm. I rushed into the bathroom, turned on the cold faucet and let water pour over my head. Grasping on to the sink, I stayed that way until my shirt was drenched. Slowly, my head began to clear. I felt calmer. All the while, I kept my lips tightly close, not daring to break the fast.
The headache didn’t go away completely, but I felt a lot better. I felt I could breathe without feeling nauseous. But I knew I had to get out of the room. I needed something to keep myself busy, so I wouldn’t think how hungry and thirsty I was.
I hurried out to the lobby and to the terrace to inhale some fresh air. Down the hillside was the cemetery with the unworldly blue graves. According to Saba Yosef, when all was said and done, that’s what it came down to, a plot in a cemetery, when all of the hoopla and fanfare was reduced to the maggots and worms in a small rectangular plot. Unless you believed in the World to Come and an everlasting soul, which was still beyond my comprehension.
“Can I get you something to drink?” a waiter asked me. Smiling, he stood on the terrace beside me, holding a tray, waiting for a response.
Was he really a waiter, I thought. Or the devil in disguise?
“I want a drink more than anything in the world,” I told him. “But I’m fasting.”
“Oh,” he said. “Of course,” as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Maybe it was in this strange, mystical part of the globe.
It was hot outside, but the gentle wind felt good, so I decided to go for a drive. Sure enough, with the car windows opened all the way, and a mountain breeze blowing in my face, my headache continued to fade as I drove down the mountain toward Tiberias.
When I was a little more than halfway down the mountain, a sign reading “Mount of Beatitudes” caught my eye. Remembering that was the legendary place where Jesus was supposed to have delivered his sermons on the mount, I figured, “What the hell!” It was Easter-time, wasn’t it? Why not have a look around and kill another hour until my rendezvous with Saba Yosef?
Following a tour bus that was going in the same direction, I got off the highway and drove along the long narrow road leading to the site. Commanding the hilltop was a domed basilica with a broad arched rotunda that looked as old as the Galilee mountains, but which was really a Franciscan chapel built not so long ago. Another three-story building served as a monastery for the Franciscan order which ran the place. Down a stretch of landscaped gardens was a breathtaking view of the sea and the city of Tiberias in the distance. Pulling into the spacious parking lot, I found an empty space after a row of tour buses. Obviously, it was a popular spot.
To my surprise, while I was locking the car and planning to take a stroll around the grounds, someone yelled out my name.
“Craig Peters! Craig Peters! Is it you?!”
Hurrying my way with outstretched arms and a Red Sox baseball cap was a guy I didn’t recognize at first. He had just gotten off the arriving bus with a noisy crowd of people.
“Craig Peters! The little-league coach! Is that really you?” he repeated.
Following him at a distance was a woman who I would have spotted a mile away. Mary Meyers, a church-going librarian who had once upon a time lived in our town. In her sleeveless, cotton Easter dress, she was still a shapely, attractive woman.
“Craig Peters, the greatest little-league coach in the world!” her jubilant husband called out.
It happened so fast, I was frozen. He gave me a bear hug that could have crushed the two cameras draped over his neck.
“Craig, old buddy! I don’t believe it! Mary, will you look who’s here? It’s Craig Peters, Jimmy’s old little-league coach. You remember!”
His wife looked just as startled as me. Who would ever have dreamed that we would meet again after more than ten years in the Mount of Beatitudes? I could see it in her eyes that she too remembered our brief and impassioned affair, while her always hopped-up husband was traveling on the road selling a revolutionary new type of vacuum cleaner. Was it three times or four that I had nailed her on the back seat of my car, in a forest just outside of town?
“It’s great to see you!” her husband continued, clapping me on the back. “Huh, Mary? Isn’t it great to see Craig?”
“Sure,” she said, looking as if she’d love to run away.
“What the hell are you doing here?” her husband, Larry, asked.
“I guess the same thing that you are,” I answered.
“Have you come to see the show? If you don’t have tickets, you can join our group. We are going to reenact the crucifixion, see a movie, and eat and drink the flesh and blood of Christ.”
I was pretty sure that Saba Yosef wouldn’t want this to be the way I broke my fast.
“I just stopped by to take a few pictures,” I said. “I’m on my way to meet some people in Tiberias, and I don’t want to be late.”
“Hey, everybody!” Larry called out to the busload of people in his group. “Say hello to Craig Peters, the best little-league coach in the world.”
Suddenly, I was surrounded by a mob of fans, as if I were some major-league star.
“How you doin’ buddy?”
“Nice to meet you.”
I must have shaken a dozen hands.
“Let me get a picture with you and Mary,” Larry said eagerly.
He stepped over to his wife, who had retreated away from the throng of my admirers, and dragged her back over to me.
“I really have to go,” I insisted.
“Come on. What’s a few minutes? Jimmy is going to love this photo of you and his mom. He’ll never believe it. Did you know he was one of the top pitchers for Notre Dame this year?”
“No one told me.”
The energetic fellow help up one of his cameras and told us to stand closer together.
“Come on, Craig. Put your arm around her.”
What could I do? There was a digital flash, and there we were immortalized, two old-time adulterers, once again embracing in the parking lot of the Mount of Beatitudes.
“Now it’s my turn,” Larry said. “Someone take our picture.”
Handing his camera to the guy next to him, he stood on the other side of his wife while a picture was snapped with the three of us.
The truth is, I was glad to hear that their kid kept up with his baseball and went on to be a top college star. It gave me a good feeling, like it always did when I heard that one of my boys had made it good.
“Have a drink,” Larry offered, holding out a bottle of water that was also strapped around his neck. The guy was what you call a professional tourist. “It’s hot as hell here,” he said.
“I have my own bottle in the car,” I told him.
“Then take a stick of gum,” he offered, holding out a pack of Wrigley’s.
“No thanks,” I said, remembering the warning I had been given about breaking the fast. “I just finished a bag of chips.”
“Then take one for later,” he insisted.
Not wanting to offend him, I slipped a piece out of the pack and whack! A metal spring clapped down on my finger.
“Ha! Ha! Ha!” the joker laughed. “You fell for that one!”
Now I remembered what an idiot he was. No wonder his wife had eyes for other men.
Suddenly, there was the blast of trumpets. A procession of Franciscan friars wearing long brown frocks made their way across the parking toward the slope of the mount. At the head of the group was a slumped-over actor, dressed in a white tunic and carrying a full-size crucifix on his back. A crown of thorns graced his lowered head.
“Come on, everyone!” Larry called. “The show is starting!”
Once again there was a chorus of trumpets. A Franciscan sister played on a harp. Some of the friars carried balls of smoking incense suspended on chains. The busload of tourists fell in behind them as the somber marchers began to trudge up the hill. While Larry was videoing the procession, I took a last, farewell glance at his wife. Embarrassed, she turned away and took her place in the line with the others.
Like I said, I was never a churchgoer. One of my mottos had always been, “Live and let live. Your business is your business, and my business is mine.” But maybe it was God Himself who had made me follow the tour bus to the Mount of Beatitudes to have me experience an epiphany and revelation? Indeed, I felt a little pull – like why not join them, eat the wafer and be saved, without having to go through fasts, and Saba Yosef’s X-ray lab, and all the hard work of change that lay in store for me. But wasn’t it Robert Frost who wrote: “Two roads diverged in a snowy wood, and I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference?”
Wasn’t that the reason that I had come to Israel, to discover something different? Whatever salvation the church had to offer, I could always find at home in New England. The main thing now was not to be gripped by doubts in the teacher that I had found.
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